By RICK KLEIN
For the day, at least, President-elect Barack Obama can put those questions to the side. On Wednesday, while the Burris question comes to a head in the Senate, he can keep his focus at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, in a day highlighted by a meeting of the very few men who can understand what he’s about to take over.
It also marks a return to the stage-managed events — the conscious news-cycle-drivers — that marked the early stages of the transition but haven’t been the norm for a while.
Here, in the midst of probably his roughest patch of the pre-presidency, comes a chance for Obama to re-set things a bit.
In advance of this Thursday speech on the economy, Obama starts the day with a 10:15 am ET press conference — where the talk will be about cost controls and budget discipline, not trillion-dollar deficits.
“President-elect Obama will be introducing his new Chief Performance Officer (CPO) on Wednesday morning,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “This is a new position designed to combat waste and improve efficiency. During this week, when the President-elect has been talking a great deal about spending hundreds of billions of dollars to get the economy moving again, he has tried to also convey that he will be vigilant about spending the money wisely.”
Not a bad time for that subject shift (how many quotes like this will it take to unite the right?): “Slowing tax revenues and a historic bailout of the U.S. financial system will send the budget deficit soaring toward $1 trillion this year, President-elect Barack Obama said yesterday, and the red ink stands to get substantially deeper if Obama wins approval of a massive economic stimulus plan,” Lori Montgomery writes in The Washington Post. “Even if the package of spending and tax cuts helps restore the nation’s immediate economic health, Obama said, the government is likely to be left with ‘trillion-dollar deficits for years to come’ unless policymakers ‘make a change in the way that Washington does business.’ ”
“In his most explicit language on the subject since winning the election, Mr. Obama sought to reassure lawmakers and the financial markets that he was aware of the long-term dangers of running huge deficits and would take steps to limit and eventually reduce them,” Jeff Zeleny and Edmund L. Andrews report in The New York Times.
“On Wednesday, Mr. Obama plans to name a chief performance officer with the task of finding government efficiencies. He has chosen Nancy Killefer, who is director of McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, and was an assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton administration. The Congressional Budget Office will also release its latest budget estimates, providing the first official predictions of the shortfalls tied to the economic slowdown and the fallen financial markets,” they write.
More details give more reasons for deficit hawks to squawk: “President-elect Barack Obama plans to offer states $7 billion as incentive to permanently change their unemployment-insurance laws to cover part-time workers and prevent other laid-off workers from falling through cracks in the coverage,” Jonathan Weisman reports in The Wall Street Journal. “But the proposal, along with others to subsidize health insurance for the laid-off and expand Medicaid to out-of-work Americans, are sparking bipartisan concern over the potential, long-term impact on a federal budget deficit that is expected to hit $1 trillion this year, even before the stimulus plan.”
The stakes: “Barack Obama’s elaborate rollout of his economic recovery plan could provide an impressive early victory for his incoming administration. But it also carries risks,” Politico’s Jeanne Cummings writes. “If he fails to deliver on his plan — both in scope and in speed — it could wreak havoc with an already precarious economy and roil global markets that have become relatively stable since he began outlining his program. If he fails to treat seriously his invitation to congressional Republicans to engage in the process, it could inject an atmosphere of mistrust and resentment that would haunt his future domestic policy ambitions.”
A quick showdown: “A closed door-meeting of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday will be an early test of President-elect Barack Obama’s economic plan, with Chairman Max Baucus hoping to use the executive session to judge support for the tax cuts and major health provisions at the heart of the $775 billion package,” David Rogers reports for Politico. “Obama is slated to address his plan in greater detail in a speech on Thursday — the same day of the Finance Committee meeting. But the basic outlines of the package have already been aired by his team in a series of calculated press leaks designed to maximize their political advantage.”
The rollout continues through the weekend — when Obama is George Stephanopoulos’ exclusive guest on ABC’s “This Week.”
A good time for advice: On Wednesday, for the first time since 1981, all the current and former living presidents will be at the White House together, for a noon ET lunch welcoming Obama to the club.
“Consider it time for a reunion among the members of one of the world’s most elite clubs, plus the one man about to join it — Barack Obama,” per the AP’s Ben Feller. “Picking up on an idea from Obama, President George W. Bush on Wednesday was hosting a lunch for the incoming president and the three living former presidents: Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. It will be the first time all the living presidents have gathered at the White House since 1981. . . . Considering the bond they hold in history, U.S. presidents get together infrequently, particularly at the White House. And when they are in the same room, it is usually for a milestone or somber moment — a funeral of a world leader, an opening of a presidential library, a commemoration of history. Not this time.”
Yet the meals will be more entertaining down the street. Roland Burris meets with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., at 10:30 am ET in Reid’s office at the Capitol.
And it’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., (again) making the party line blurry: “Senate Democrats are looking for ways to defuse the standoff that has denied Roland Burris the vacated Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama of Illinois, but maybe not much longer,” the AP’s Ann Sanner writes. “Knowledgeable Senate officials in both parties said the saga was widely expected to end with Burris being seated. . . . Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, told reporters Tuesday evening that Burris should be seated. ‘If you don’t seat Mr. Burris, it has ramifications for gubernatorial appointments all over America.’”
“Burris’ legal team is preparing a federal lawsuit, based on a precedent set when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected efforts by the U.S. House of Representatives to exclude Rep. Adam Clayton Powell,” the Chicago Tribune’s Mike Dorning reports. “Should Burris gain the second signature on his appointment certificate, Senate Democratic leaders have a plan in place to refer the issue of seating him to the Senate Rules Committee for an investigation that would drag on until after impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich conclude. The end game would be to then seat a senator appointed by Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn. But Feinstein, as a member of the Rules Committee with additional standing as its most recent past chairwoman, could hinder that strategy with her support for Burris.”
Politico’s Amie Parnes and Manu Raju give Burris “an unmistakable sense of momentum. He’s now got a top Senate Democrat on his side, a growing chorus of Congressional Black Caucus members backing him and an apparent edge in pending lawsuits. … The key question now for Reid and Durbin: How do they find cover in a political story that has run amok? One idea being considered is to have Burris win an endorsement from the sitting lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn, one Democratic insider said.”
“Illinois might get filled before Minnesota,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reported on “Good Morning America” Wednesday, adding that the biggest obstacle may be cleared if Burris commits to not running for a full term. “If he agrees to that, I think he could get seated — and the lieutenant governor of Illinois is signaling he could go along with that deal.”
The Chicago Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet: “Most Democrats I talked to now figure Burris will eventually be seated.”
“The sight of the Senate slamming the door in the face of a qualified man who would also be its only black member was apparently too much for some Democrats to stand,” National Review’s Byron York writes.
Not that Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., and Burris himself haven’t already gotten most of what they banked on: “He was seeking to have a circus — and he succeeded,” The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes. “He has been displaying himself rather prominently since last week, when Blagojevich, the disgraced Illinois governor, appointed Burris to the very same Senate seat Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell. . . . The magic man’s media tour — which has taken him from NBC’s ‘Today’ show and PBS to CNN and MSNBC to most any newspaper reporter who calls — continued yesterday morning, with CBS News’s ‘The Early Show, when he predicted that he would be sworn in on Tuesday. ‘I do believe I will be,’ he said.”
Panetta pushback — after even Joe Biden declares the lack of consultations with the Hill a “mistake.”
“Current and former intelligence officials expressed sharp resentment over Obama’s choice of Leon E. Panetta as CIA director and suggested that the agency suffers from incompetent leadership and low morale,” Karen DeYoung and Jody Warrick report in The Washington Post. “The Panetta uproar starts Obama off on the wrong foot with the committee and intelligence professionals and was the latest glitch in what has largely been an unusually smooth and carefully choreographed transition.”
A Holder hiccup: “The ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., this afternoon raised the level of his rhetoric in questioning the ‘character’ of President-elect Obama’s nominee to be Attorney General, Eric Holder,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “Specter suggested that he’s concerned that Holder would be too much like former Attorneys General Harry Daugherty (of the Teapot Dome scandal), Homer Cummings (of FDR’s court-packing riff) and Alberto Gonzales — more loyal to the President than to the rule of law.”
For top doc, a (too?) familiar face: “America’s most famous television surgeon, Sanjay Gupta, is poised to take his black bag and microphone to the White House as President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for U.S. surgeon general,” Ceci Connolly and Howard Kurtz write in The Washington Post. “A neurosurgeon who is also a correspondent for CNN and CBS, Gupta was chosen as much for his broadcasting skills as for his medical résumé, suggesting that the incoming administration values visible advisers who can drive a public message.”
In The New York Times, Gardiner Harris calls it “a pick that will give the moribund office a higher profile but one that has received a mixed reaction among public health advocates. … If he takes the job, Dr. Gupta would be accepting an ailing patient. The status and authority of the surgeon general, the titular head of the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, has been on the wane for decades.”
Among the sights and sounds to remember Tuesday, on a, well, memorable day at the Capitol: Sen. Ted Kennedy’s return. “Perched behind his seat in the rear of the chamber – a coveted spot, since it is close to the doors to the Senate cloakroom, where deals are done – a relaxed Kennedy chuckled and chatted with fellow senators and staff. Except for the cane he now uses, he looked much the way he did prior to his May diagnosis,” Susan Milligan writes in The Boston Globe.
“Even while attending the swearing-in of his son, Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, the elder Kennedy was already laying the groundwork for moving legislation forward. Surprising a delighted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Kennedy and his wife, Vicki, joined her for photos to honor the younger Kennedy’s election to his eighth term in Congress – but the senator did not miss the chance to buttonhole the speaker about healthcare and other parts his legislative agenda,” Milligan writes.
Jeb is out, meaning everyone else in GOP politics in Florida might be in: “Dousing Republican hopes that a political giant would enter the U.S. Senate race, Jeb Bush said Tuesday that he will not run,” writes Adam C. Smith, in the St. Petersburg Times. “The announcement opened the door for a free-for-all of candidates vying for the rare open Senate seat in 2010 to be vacated by incumbent Republican Mel Martinez. Attorney General Bill McCollum and former state House Speakers Allan Bense and Marco Rubio said they are again looking seriously at the Republican nomination and will make announcements soon.”
Going, and going, and going, in Minnesota: “Surrounded by cheering supporters, Republican Norm Coleman, who received 225 fewer votes than DFLer Al Franken in the U.S. Senate recount, vowed Tuesday to wage a court battle to challenge the outcome,” Pat Doyle and Kevin Duchschere write in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “In deciding to fight on, Coleman rejected Monday’s ruling of the state Canvassing Board, which certified the results that gave Franken the lead. The next phase of the dispute will take place in Ramsey County District Court, where Coleman will try to convince a three-judge panel that he was hurt by votes that were wrongly excluded and improperly included in the recount.”
More fun in New York: “Even as Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo insisted he was staying out of the competition for New York’s soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat, a top Cuomo aide urged labor leaders and upstate officials to refrain from embracing Caroline Kennedy for the job, according to several people with direct knowledge of the conversations,” Nicholas Confessore reports in The New York Times.
Fearless predictions, from The Hill’s newest pundit/blogger, Chris Kofinis: “President Obama signs into law the largest stimulus package in U.S. history by Feb. 1 (give or take a few days), with overwhelming support in both houses of Congress. … President Obama signs into law historic healthcare reform (nearly universal) within the first five months, with conservative Republicans balking but a coalition of business/labor/healthcare activists helping to seal the deal. … President Obama will not veto a single piece of legislation this year, but expect Republicans to threaten a filibuster more often than Britney Spears ends up in People. … From healthcare to the environment, President Obama’s administration accomplishes more in 12 months, legislatively, than any administration since FDR.”
Your recession data point — the new $485,000 White House china: “Why is Laura Bush introducing the new ‘Bush’ china — two weeks before they move out?” ABC’s Ann Compton reported on “Good Morning America” Wednesday. “The White House worried that wear and tear had taken a toll on its fragile china collections, and the Bushes took some time to decide on a new design.”
“No time but the present,” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said with a laugh.
“I’m baffled by this — the timing of it,” said Sally Quinn.
“I’m just on display.” — Roland Burris, speaking the truth.
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